Fake malaria treatments stymie efforts

counterfeit-drugs“The life-saving medicine arrives on cargo trucks and in suitcases, crossing borders to be put on sale in pharmacies, shops and hospitals. There is just one problem: it isn’t life-saving at all,” reports today’s edition of The Guardian. By some reports a leading source of the problematic vaccines in China.

“To look at the packaging, you would never know. It is usually a dead ringer for the real thing. Only on closer inspection will you find a watermark missing or notice the crumbling edges of a tablet that to well-trained inspectors can be the telltale signs of fakery. Even health professionals are routinely fooled.

“’I have taken them myself,’ said Dr Mechtlida Luhaga, who has been both doctor and patient in Africa’s long battle against malaria. ‘I took Alu and nothing happened. I had another blood test to recheck and still had the same parasites. The drugs were fake.’

“In cities and villages across Tanzania and Uganda – the countries with the highest number of malaria cases in the world – everyone knows about fake and substandard drugs. Most people know at least someone who has taken them. The overwhelming suspicion is that they, like poor quality mobile phones and cheap clothing, come from China.

“Luhaga knows malaria intimately. She has had several bouts and is all too familiar with the useless pills that have infiltrated every corner of the medicines market in the Lake Victoria basin. The doctor, who oversees a regional hospital that receives about 700 patients each day in Tanzania’s Mwanza district on the shores of Lake Victoria, keeps a tidy chart on her office wall. It shows the list of illnesses that bring patients in – and malaria is always number one.

“In Uganda, where the market is perhaps even more saturated with fakes making their way across porous borders into less regulated markets such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the situation at times seems hopeless. At Busia, a major border crossing with Kenya, trucks are lined up for hours, or even days, awaiting inspection.

“’We have a big problem with all these dangerous and toxic goods so we must what? Test everything?’ said Robert Kamchu, the head of the border police.”


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